10 Tips for Transitioning to an Online Curriculum for Special Education Students

6 min to read
Image of a young female student who is raising her hand while taking an online class.

Many K-12 students across the nation who need special education are now learning online, some for the first time. For many special education students and their families, a transition to online learning can be a big adjustment and, at times, uncomfortable. 

Below are ten tips for families starting their online learning journeys and navigating a special education program at home. Remember: you know your child best—you’ve got this!

1. Review Special Education or Section 504 paperwork

Whether you are navigating how to support a child with dyslexia, how to support a child with autism, or how to support a student with another special learning requirement in an online learning environment, one of the best things you can do is familiarize yourself with your child’s learning plan (an IEP or Section 504 Plan) paperwork as it relates to school.. Reach out to your child’s case manager, teacher, or counselor if you don’t have a copy.

  • Familiarize yourself with your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 plan. Review educational goals, classroom modification supports, and areas of strengths and needs.
  • Seek out insights from your child’s educators. Set up a time to talk with your child’s teachers/providers about their understanding of online or homeschooling special education instruction requirements and learn their tips for success.

2. Develop a structured daily schedule

To help with adapting to an at-home learning environment, create a daily schedule for your child that includes time for assignments, breaks, eating, and play. For consistency, consider mirroring the Monday through Friday schedule your child had in their previous school.  

  • Set hourly, daily, and/or weekly goals with your child. Based on your child’s needs, create learning blocks that are 30 to 45 minutes, with breaks in between. You can print a daily schedule, develop your own, or download our sample.
  • Incorporate a variety of learning materials to support the special education program. On days your student does not have school-assigned work, use a combination of physical materials and online resources to address all the academic areas each day, if possible.
  • Reinforce transition times during school hours. To help transition between activities, try using a timer or another cue to alert and prepare your child for a change that is about to happen. This may be especially helpful for homeschooling students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or ADD/ADHD, or executive functioning needs. 

3. Establish Dedicated Workspaces and Identify Required Assistive Technology

When transitioning to a virtual school environment, it is necessary to establish where the learning zones are in your home. Learn how to set your student up for online school for special education success in the home. 

  • Locate dedicated areas for your child to complete schoolwork. Aim for a desk, table, or counter space that is comfortable and free from noise and distractions for completing assignments.
  • Identify any technology that will support your student with special education needs at home. If your child requires assistive technology to access their education, contact your school or special education service provider. Examples of assistive technology tools include audio players and recorders, timers, and text-to-speech software. 

Young student in a red and blue striped shirt is working on an assignment with his learning coach mom.

4. Modify Lessons as Needed

Lesson modifications may be listed on your child’s IEP or Section 504 Plan. Here are some examples of modifications that may help support the adjustment to online school for kids with special education needs:

  • Break up projects into smaller, manageable parts.

  • Color-code materials for each subject.

  • Keep instructions clear and simple. 

  • Extend time to complete projects, tasks, tests, and quizzes as needed (use a timer or alarm so your child can manage their own time).

  • Read aloud to your child when possible if that is their preferred method.

  • Help your child take notes as they read.

5. Identify Physical and Online Resources

There are multiple resources available to assist students with special education learning requirements. For example, there are helpful reading programs for dyslexia students. Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Find books, magazines, coloring books, recipes, or workbooks to use with your student.

  • Look for free virtual field trips, offered by many institutions.

6. Encourage Your Student to Use All Their Senses

Special educators often use a multisensory approach to support student engagement and learning. You can use this approach, which encourages using all senses to learn, to help reinforce learning with your student, too.

Visual learners take information in when presented visually. 

  • Use graphic organizers such as charts, graphs, and diagrams.
  • Replace important words and concepts with visual cues like symbols or initials to help with comprehension.
  • Watch instructional videos. 

Auditory learners understand information better when it is presented orally. 

  • Record your student’s summarized notes and listen to recordings together to study.
  • Talk it out. Have your child explain to you the topic they are learning about. This heps deepen their unders.
  • Have your child read and explain notes and assignments out loud—to you or siblings. 

 “Hands-on” learners like to be in motion and benefit from tactile opportunities. Do hands-on lab experiments or projects.

  • Explore outdoor spaces if available.

7. Use open conversation to work through obstacles

As your student’s Learning Coach, you may need to support them while they overcome some learning blocks and obstacles they encounter throughout the day. For example, if they are navigating a transition from homeschooling with dyslexia to a more unified online classroom learning environment, help your child talk about their frustrations so you can make small changes and improvements to the schedule, approach, or resources used.  

  • Let your child know that everyone gets stuck from time to time. Share your own experiences from a time you felt the same way. 

  • Start an open dialogue. Ask your child to walk you through what they have been working on and why they think they are stuck. Use open-ended questions like, “Tell me about what you are reading?” Ask what they think they should be doing differently. Monitor and adjust!

  • Bring it back to joy. Connect the assignment to something your child loves and enjoys.

Young student in a blue shirt and red headphones is chatting with his online friends from his online classes at Connections Academy.

8. Stay Connected with Teachers, Friends, and Family!

One of the biggest hurdles of transitioning to online learning is that it can make students feel disconnected and isolated from their old peer group. Use these tips to help your special education student feel connected to their peers, friends, and teachers in this transition. 

  • Encourage your child to communicate with others on the phone or through email, text, or video call to talk about school, life, and learning online.
  • Use online forums to chat with other families about your experiences and concerns. Be sure that your child’s online activity is done safely and is monitored by a parent. 

9. Celebrate Your Student’s Successes

Whether you are homeschooling students with special education needs or transitioning them to online learning, a different learning environment means that success may take a different form. Learn how to acknowledge and celebrate your child’s successes with these tips:
  • Identify things that motivate your child and offer them as a way to acknowledge and celebrate a job well done. Verbal praise goes a long way!
  • Celebrate with your child as they finish assignments and complete the week.  

10. Take Care of Yourself and Your Family

The special education instructors at Connections Academy® encourage you to first focus on your student’s health and well-being. Assess this regularly as you and your student work with teachers in the online environment.
  • Take things one day at a time—transitioning to online learning from home will get easier.
  • All transitions present their own unique set of challenges. But armed with the right education, resources, and tips for success, your child will be able to adapt and thrive in an online-based special education program in no time.
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